I really believe that 9/11 changed the way we viewed 24 hour news stations. Most people would agree that networks like CNN started making waves during the first Gulf War when they displayed live images of US planes bombing Iraq. While that event gave these news channels legitimacy, September 11, 2001 marked the emergence of opinion driven news, with Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC pushing the major networks to another level. In the midst of the VirginiaÂ Tech travesty, we've seen some disturbing actions by these media outlets. Trying to one up each other in coverage, sensationalism has reigned supreme and we need to question if our quest for knowledge needs to be checked.
First, CNN chooses to air cell phone video of a VTech student hours after the shooting. This was before the news networks were even sure of the scope of the situation. What if that video wasn't authentic? What if it was filmed by an accomplice of the shooter? The desire for ratings ruled the day, and not wanting to be scooped, they released an amateur video that really didn't help anybody but themselves.
Then, in the aftermath of the shooting, many media outlets wanted to sensationalize the scope of the tragedy. Quite a few television news broadcasts and newspapers labeled this "the worst mass murder in US history." This is not true. Even if you discount 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing, there are others. In 1991 an arsonist in New York set a blaze that claimed 87 lives. It wasn't even the deadliest school killing. In 1927 over 40 people were killed when a disgrunted school board member blew up a school with dynamite. Whatever reason these news outlets chose for making this statement, it is incredibly irresponsible and nonfactual.
Finally, we see yesterday's decision by NBC news to air the photographs and video that the murderer had mailed to them between killings. This could be the biggest decision any news outlet has had to make regarding release of information and they failed miserably. The killer, in death, received exactly what he was looking for: notoriety. And perhaps, to those who feel depressed and/or disenfranchised, he will be viewed as a martyr. The wise decision would've been not to share the information. Was the situation improved knowing that the assassin was disturbed?
Unfortunately, unless the FCC were to step in, there is no one to keep them in check. It should be a reminder to all of us that, even though we're blessed to live in a country with an independent media, we shouldn't digest everything they try to feed us. We shouldn't shy away from demanding integrity in the way they chose to present the news.
And we ought to be careful how desperate we are to want the news. I'll admit that while I question the motives of the media of sharing the info, I didn't turn away when it aired. Many of us will rubberneck at the most insignificant news because we love a wreck.
There is such a thing as too much information.